Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The importance of mythopoetic history

The subject is mentioned in many of the public sites that discuss Filianism but it is not really discussed. Perhaps because many feel that it is simply enough to say that it matters and it is more 'real' when compared to literal history. I, however, believe it is important to take a moment to explore what mythopoetic history is and why it is important. Because mythopoetic history is very important and has a powerful influence on how entire cultures view themselves.

Literal history is just that. The history that can be proven factually with evidence. It is what most archeologists and historians study. While some argue that literal history is the only form of history, there are also those who deny that historical events happened. (I'm looking right at you, holocaust deniers.) While it is tempting to say that literal history is the only history of the world and humanity, it fails to take in the more subtle aspects that can be only inferred from historical artifacts.

Mythopoetic history is the story we tell ourselves about our origins. Each culture (and subculture) has a different mythopoetic history. Mythopoetic history is fluid and exists in a mutual relationship of influence upon the culture it operates upon/within. The tales of the ancient Greeks, including the great myths of the gods, the great stories of heroes (The Odyssey is perhaps the most well known of them.) and the folklore of the people, make up their mythopoetic history. It tells them where they came from, how the world works, what it means to be a person, what it means to be respectable, and what is to be unforgivable behavior in their society. Mythopoetic history is influenced by cultural shifts.

As such, when you look at the changes to these myths with the passage of time, it becomes apparent what values changed and about when it happened. It is also possible to gague the influence of social stressors, such as economic problems and war, through the evolution of the mythopoetic language of a society. Modern Greece's mythopoetic history is very different from ancient Greece. It is heavily influenced by literal history because of the high value that is placed upon such things in their society now. Elements of the ancient mythopoetic history will remain in that culture's 'story' but they will be reinterpreted and reenvisioned to fit the modern societal conditions.

It is possible for mythopoetic history to be changed in a fairly short period of time. If one consideres the social engineering and manipulation of what became the Nazi Party in the era of the Weimar Republic, the sweeping changes to how the German people viewed themselves was enormous. It built upon several core elements that make up mythopoetic history and then presented them in an attractive fashion, at an aggressive pace. The success of their social engineering is partly due to the fact that the German people at the time were desperately looking for better ways to define themselves and remove the onus of shame that they felt because of their conditions. Another reason why it was so successful was because it acquired patronage from individuals highly placed within the society.

Shifts in mythopoetic history must be grounded in a sense of where the culture comes from, who and what they standfor, and why they have the troubles they do. It must answer the basic questions of existence that go beyond 'where did humans come from?' and 'how did the universe come into being?'. It addresses the questions of what our relationship with the universe should be, what our cultural origins are, and addresses the attributes of a 'good' citizen. When these shifts are well placed and timed correctly, they seem to the person within the structure of the mythopoetic history to be a seamless transition.

Studying mythopoetic history is an important thing. Observing how it is shaped and how it evolves makes it possible for one to have a clear picture of the state of the given society, its values, and its norms. Just as mythopoetic history can be changed through skillful manipulation, it can be retained as well. Some elements of mythopoetic history will persist as folklore simply because one can not erase anything completely from memory. Other elements can be adapted to the evolving culture and retain much of their original concept, with new ones applied to it as well.

One may wonder why mythopoetic history is so important. It is important from an anthropological and sociological position because it depicts the things about the culture that it valued about itself and the world. It is also important from a layman's perspective because it is what is at the heart of political movements and change. If one has a clear understanding of what previous mythopoetic history said about their culture, it becomes possible to affect change in the present mythopoetic history. A fine example of this is how the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s forced a change in how the cultural story of the black community was placed in society. The transition away from that earlier view is still in process, but there is enough of a change that governmental shifts have been made.

Cross posted from  One Witch's Theological Musings

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